As of Tuesday, the controversial legislation has been passed by both the Florida Senate and House.
It wasn’t the ever-present sun that shone brightest on Florida’s Capitol steps Monday morning, but a true rainbow of diversity as the young, the old, the LGBTQ, and, yes, the straight allies gathered to protest the legislation sponsored by Republican Rep. Joe Harding known as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”
SB 1834 would bar Florida educators from speaking to primary school students about certain LGBTQ topics such as sexual preference or gender identity. Parents would also be given authority to take legal action against school districts.
But in Tallahassee, as the Florida Senate debated the legislation, growing chants of “We say gay!” were heard loud and clear.
“When you come to our schools to instill hate, bigotry, and fear, we will stand up, speak up, and fight back,” Maxx Fenning, founder of the LGBTQ youth advocacy organization PRISM, said at the protest, adding, “We will never be silenced!”
This prompted Democratic Florida Rep. Carlos G. Smith, a member of the LGBTQ community, to make a promise to the students on the steps of the Capitol, and across the state: “We will get up, stand up, wake up every single day to fight for you because your lives matter.”
A Hateful Attack
Opponents of the bill call it a hateful attack on the state’s young LGBTQ population, which already faces greater risk of self-harm and suicide. In fact, the crowd fell silent the moment when a youth organizer read off a list of names of LGBTQ people who committed suicide after experiencing anti-LGBTQ hate.
“My biggest fear is that these kids will not feel safe in the classroom. We have to protect them from a mental health standpoint and understand that not everyone comes from a supportive, loving environment,” said Heather Wilkie, the executive director of the Zebra Coalition, an organization in Central Florida providing mental health counseling and housing services to LGBTQ youth.
This case is strongly made by Javier Gomez, president of the Gay-Straight Alliance chapter at Miami’s iPrep Academy, who in February testified to lawmakers in Tallahassee that without the help of the school counselors and teachers who supported him, he wouldn’t be standing before them.
The Parental Rights in Education bill, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by LGBTQ activists, has now been passed by both the Florida Senate and House. For his part, Gov. Ron DeSantis has expressed his support.